By Wendell Brock, For the AJC #atlanta-ga
Growing up in Iran, Fares Kargar often was subjected to the hierarchies of the tahdig, the crispy layer of rice that caramelizes and sticks to the bottom the pot. One of the more coveted bites of a Persian feast, the tahdig traditionally is offered first to the eldest and most honored guests. That means there often is little more than a crumb or two left for the children to pick at.
Now that he has his own restaurant, Kargar is here to change that.
In the corner of a busy Inman Park strip, Delbar is the longtime dream of an immigrant who came to Atlanta in 2007, at 18, planning to study architecture. After getting a job as a dishwasher, Kargar fell in love with the industry, earned a degree in hospitality from Georgia State University, and worked as a manager for Rumi’s Kitchen until leaving to start his passion project.
He had everything planned, from the design to the food. He wanted his place to reflect his grandmother’s village of Dastjerd. He often would go there in the summer, when peaches and grapes were plentiful. He remembers her fresh bread, labneh and cheese, the abundance of saffron, barberries, pomegranates.
The original plan was for Delbar to launch in the spring, but the pandemic slowed everything — construction, permitting, finding help. Kargar had second thoughts: “Should we do this thing? Should we not? Should we spend the money on it? Because, we don’t know where we are going from here.”
In the end, Delbar opened softly and quietly, for takeout only, in May, with just the restaurateur and two other staffers in the kitchen. On July 4, it opened the dining room and patio. On Sept. 8, lunch was added.
From the get-go, customers have been wildly enthusiastic — about the succulent lamb-neck shawarma; the trout stuffed with pomegranate, walnuts and herbs; the hummus and falafel; the bread and sabzi (with herbs, cheese, walnuts and radishes). And, more than Kargar ever thought possible, they are crazy about the rice. Each and every rice plate on the menu comes with its own tahdig.
Kargar wouldn’t have it any other way. From the beginning, he reasoned: “If we are going to do this thing, let’s just do it right. … We are going to cook every single rice with a tahdig on the bottom.”
Though not as thorny as creating a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic, offering personal-size rice dishes did come with some challenges. Kargar started out with about 12 of the quart-size cooking vessels, then quickly realized he had to order more to keep up with demand. “We had to add another 20, then another 12, then another 20 about two days ago.”
If you order a rice dish (polo), be it with herbs; saffron; lentils and raisins; or green beans, tomatoes and beef tips, you can expect to wait about 25 minutes. That, you see, is how long it takes to make a perfectly scorched and crispy tahdig.
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Menu: Middle Eastern, mostly Persian
What I ordered: Omani prawns, lamb-neck shawarma, sabzi polo, heirloom tomato salad, koobideh kebabs, bread and sabzi. Everything was carefully labeled, and very good. Next time, I might go with more dips and spreads; they travel better than grilled meats and flatbread. The standout was the lusty lamb-neck shawarma; the tahdig was just a little too scorched for my taste.
Service options: dine-in (including a lovely patio); takeout (with designated curbside parking); delivery, via GrubHub, Postmates, UberEats and DoorDash
Safety protocols: follows standard CDC guidelines; customers required to wear masks; restaurant provides complimentary masks
Address, phone: 870 Inman Village Parkway, Atlanta; 404-500-1444
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays